Egypt after Mubarak
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|David Schenker||June 29th 2011|
As the Ahmed Ezz and Hisham Talaat Mustafa examples amply show, the narrative propagated by the National Democratic Party (NDP) of a government run by technocratic and competent businessmen was not widely embraced in Egypt. Instead, despite overwhelming obstacles, a dedicated opposition developed over the years. While fragmented, infiltrated, and periodically brutalized by the government, secular and Islamist dissidents protested, remonstrated, signed petitions, and worked to embarrass the authoritarian leadership. These adversaries of the NDP hoped to capitalize on popular anti-regime sentiment, even as the security state continuously targeted them as emerging political threats.
To many, the Papyrus Revolution seemed a spontaneous uprising triggered by events in Tunisia. In reality, however, the opposition had been building toward these demonstrations for years, with its momentum supported by the increasing prevalence of routine social and political protests against the state.
For the regime, containing and suppressing the opposition was becoming ever more costly. As Egypt moves forward, this striking and unprecedented display of people power will serve as a sword of Damocles for underperforming Egyptian governments and security services prone to excesses.
The NDP and Its Critics
Prior to the revolution, the most powerful monopoly in Egypt was the political position held by the NDP. Established by President Anwar Sadat in 1978, the NDP remained the ruling party until February 2011, when President Mubarak was deposed. In addition to writing the lawsâ€”and voting for constitutional amendments that provided the de jure justification that enabled the party to retain its political dominance, NDP members held key positions in the bureaucracy and administration that perpetuated regime control.
Perhaps the best example of this incestuous and corrupt system was former NDP secretary-general Safwat al-Sharif, who was also the onetime speaker of the Shura Council and head of the Political Party Committee (PPC), an institution stacked with NDP members. In this capacity, Sharif and the NDP determined which opposition parties could be legally established, a process that permitted rejecting opposition parties based on the judgment that their programs lacked â€œuniqueness.â€ The PPC could also deny a party the right to operate based on the equally arbitrary principle of â€œnational interest.â€
This power dynamic resulted in surreal rulings. In 1978, for example, Anwar Esmat Sadatâ€”a onetime parliamentarian and nephew of the former presidentâ€” petitioned to establish a political party called the Sadat Party but was turned down by the PPC, which ruled that, according to the NDP, â€œthe Sadat Party is the NDP.â€
The NDPâ€™s preeminence was guaranteed and perpetuated through elections that were almost universally assessed as fraudulent. The party also used intimidationâ€” arresting and threatening members of the oppositionâ€”to improve the electoral terrain. Most notable in this regard were the frequent and seemingly indiscriminate roundups of rank-and-file Islamists and prominent Muslim Brotherhood (MB) leaders. In its 2009 report, Amnesty International estimated that up to 10,000 Islamists were being held in administrative detention. Nor were secular opposition leaders spared. In 2005, the regime arrested Mubarakâ€™s only rival presidential candidate, Ayman Nour. More recently, the state sought to discredit democratic gadfly and would-be presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradeiâ€” whose international stature as former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) precluded his arrestâ€”by accusing him in the governmentcontrolled media of being an â€œAmerican stooge.â€
Repressive governance in Egypt engendered widespread resentment of the NDP. And indeed, NDP officials appeared to recognize that the partyâ€™s image needed burnishing. During the NDP conference held in November 2009 under the slogan â€œOnly for you,â€ the party made what appeared to be a direct populist appeal by pushing a platform focused on poverty alleviation, subsidies, health care, education, and employment. Meanwhile, a slickly produced video shown between sessions touted the NDP as the â€œparty of the fellahin [peasant farmers].â€
At the conference, the NDP also took credit for its largely successful economic policies. Party officials boasted repeatedly of steering Egypt clear of the financial crisis, increasing penetration of ration cards and food subsidies, lowering the public debt, attracting foreign investment, and raising tourist revenues, among other accomplishments.
But the party also infused the conference with a touch of uncharacteristicâ€”if calculatedâ€”humility. NDP assistant secretary-general Gamal Mubarak, for example, claimed during his plenary report that â€œEgypt has changed. We donâ€™t monopolize the arena anymore, [so] we have to convey a convincing message to public opinion.â€
While the NDP conference focused heavily on social issues, only one panel was devoted to the controversial topic of governance. â€œCitizenship, Democracy, and Human Rightsâ€â€”the last panel on the last dayâ€” featured two of the partyâ€™s leading Western-educated intellectuals specializing in these issues: Muhammad Kamal and Ali Din Helal, in addition to Minister of State for Legal Affairs Mufid Shehab. Before the panel started, the large auditorium packed with party functionaries cleared out.
After some time, it was easy to see why. Instead of discussing democracy and human rights, the panelists devoted their talks to obscure topics with little discernable connection to the issues advertised. Helal, for example, talked about the necessity of protecting Egyptian culture and civilization through copywriting and preservation of movies, while Kamal focused on the NDP commitment to fight corruption and the necessity to prevent Egyptian parents from selling their children.
Of course, the NDP never publicly recognized Egyptian aspirations for more democratic and transparent government. Indeed, NDP officials were dismissive of calls for change, an attitude epitomized by NDP media affairs secretary Ali Din Helal. For example, when Helal was asked about popular sentiment during a June 2009 interview with the government- friendly Egyptian weekly Rose al-Yousef, he downplayed interest in democracy, saying that â€œthe street is concerned with daily human problems, after that we find some of the people who link these problems with a particular political situation â€¦â€ Egyptians, according to Helalâ€™s supercilious worldview, â€œarenâ€™t interested in politicsâ€ but rather are focused only on â€œpolitical demands.â€ Instead of democratic politics, the NDP overall projected onto the population its own preference for stability.
To a certain extent, Helal was right: many Egyptians set political reform as a lower priority than economic reform. But the two are inexorably related, with modern economic reform benefiting from an environment infused with democratic values such as transparency and accountability. Moreover, prospects for successful economic reform are enhanced by the presence of an independent media, an empowered legislature, and functioning and autonomous courts. While democratization may not be a prerequisite for economic reform, in the words of one Western political economist, â€œSome measure of political reform in most MENA [Middle East and North African] countries is imperative if economic success is the goal.â€
If the NDP had remained in charge, of course, Egyptiansâ€™ hopes for political reform would not have been realized. The NDPâ€™s disdain for democratic change ran deep, and was oftentimes expressed in brazen fashion. In the run-up to the June 2010 Shura Council elections, for example, NDP parliament member and head of the foreign affairs committee Mostafa el-Fiky suggested that it might be â€œnecess[ary] to rig the voting process under certain circumstances.â€ Months earlier, another NDP parliament member, Nashaat al-Qasas, used the parliament floor to call for the Ministry of Interior to disperse pro-democracy protestors more forcefully. â€œDo not use water hoses to disperse these outlaws,â€ he said, â€œshoot at them directly.â€ Fortunately, when the Papyrus Revolution occurred, the sensibilities of the militaryâ€”and not the NDPâ€”prevailed.
The revolution rendered the NDPâ€™s future uncertain. Whereas in Cairo the NDP appears to have disintegratedâ€”the headquarters were burned and the party leadership resigned, with many facing criminal chargesâ€”the partyâ€™s status outside the capital remains unclear. In villages across the country, former NDP officials may no longer wear the party emblem, but they remain in key local positions. And given the short time line set for national elections, some if not many of these officials will likely be returned to parliament during the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections.
Egyptâ€™s history of political parties spans more than a century. Since the 1950s and the Free Officersâ€™ coup, however, the party system has largely been manipulated and controlled by the government, resulting in the co-optation of much of the â€œopposition.â€ Prior to the revolution, the Wafd, the Nasserites, and Tagammua could only charitably be described as opposition parties. Indeed, in July 2010, an organization called the Popular Coalition for Supporting Gamal Mubarak (for President) was established by Tagammua member Magdi Kordi. His deputy at the coalition, Iglal Salem, belonged to the Wafd Party.
Putting aside the two dozen or so largely irrelevant political parties, the most significant political forces in todayâ€™s Egypt are the Islamists and the liberals gravitating around Mohamed ElBaradei. Neither group possessed an actual party as of March 2011.
The Islamists. Although the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) publicly foreswore violence decades ago, the Mubarak regime viewed Islamists as a threat and engaged in a systematic campaign to constrain the organization. In addition to frequent arrests and detentions of MB leaders, Cairo intervened in elections by preventing Islamist candidates from running for office and reportedly manipulating results of the balloting.
Despite constraints, MB members had long served as â€œindependentsâ€ in parliament, with 2005 marking a banner year. In that yearâ€™s parliamentary elections, the MB secured eighty-eight seats, or 20 percent of the legislature, a fivefold increase from its representation in 2000. Whether the MBâ€™s performance was a true reflection of the Islamistsâ€™ popularity or a government manipulation designed to quiet incessant demands for political reform by the Bush administration, however, is unclear. Given that the same year, the MB won no seats in elections to the upper house, or Majlis al-Shura, the Islamistsâ€™ victory in the Majlis al-Shaab appears not to have been a surprise for the Mubarak regime.
Then, two years after the elections, the Mubarak regime cracked down on the MB, arresting hundreds of members between 2007 and 2009, including the groupâ€™s leading local financier and deputy chairman, Khairat al-Shater. His imprisonment had a chilling effect on the organizationâ€™s local fundraising. In 2007, the government also engineered constitutional amendments and a restrictive new electoral law that would have made it nearly impossible for the group to effectively participate in future parliamentary elections. Among others provisions, the amendments included a ban on religious parties and more restrictive conditions on â€œindependents,â€ the only avenue for Islamist participation.
These new amendments presented a real problem for the MB in the local elections of spring 2008. Initially, the MB had planned to run 10,000 candidates for the 53,000 available seats. But the amendments and an intense arrest campaign, combined with bureaucratic slow-rolling in registering MB candidates, took a serious toll on the groupâ€™s plans. By the week before the elections, the MB had managed to get fewer than 500 candidates approved by the government. Just days prior to voting, the Brotherhood announced that it would boycott the election, and the NDPâ€”running virtually unopposed, with only 1,221 nonregime candidates on the ballotâ€”secured well over 90 percent of the seats.
Increased repression by the regime appears to have had an impact on the MBâ€™s orientation. In 2009, in a direct challenge to Mubarak, the group issued several unprecedented statements in support of Hamas and Hizballah. For example, following the arrest of members of a Hizballah cell operating in Egyptâ€”a group that Mubarak himself declared a â€œthreat [to] Egyptâ€™s national securityâ€â€”then MB Supreme Guide Muhammad Mahdi Akef contradicted the president at a press conference, saying that â€œHizballah doesnâ€™t threaten Egyptian national security.â€50 Indeed, members of the NDP even accused MB members of belonging to the arrested Hizballah cell. Likewise, shortly after Israelâ€™s Gaza incursion of December 2008â€“ January 2009â€”which the regime saw as the result of a Hamas provocationâ€”the MB issued a statement urging Egyptians to â€œbolster the resistance and support [Hamas] by every possible means.â€
More recently, during internal balloting in December 2009 to select its sixteen-member executive committee and replace Akef as Supreme Guide, the MB bypassed several moderate incumbentsâ€”including Akef â€™s deputy, Muhammad Habibâ€”and installed a more conservative leadership instead. On his election, the new Supreme Guide, Muhammad Badie, was described by the pan- Arab daily al-Hayat as â€œamong the most hardline [MB] leaders, devoted to the tactics of Sayyed Qutb,â€ a founder and leading MB theoretician who advocated violence to establish an Islamic state in Egypt prior to his 1966 execution. Indeed, Badie himself was sentenced to fifteen yearsâ€™ imprisonment in 1965 by the same military tribunal that condemned Qutb.
To some observers, the vote reflected the outcome of an internal debate in the organization regarding the utility of participating in Egyptâ€™s sclerotic political system. In this debate, the losers were those who sought further influence in national politics by participating in admittedly rigged elections. Still others suggest that the Egyptian government manipulated the MBâ€™s internal electionsâ€”jailing key MB â€œmoderatesâ€ like Abd al-Muanem Abu al-Fatouh prior to the ballotingâ€”to help seal Badieâ€™s victory.
It is not clear what impact the internal change of leadershipâ€”along with the unseating of Mubarakâ€” will have on the organizationâ€™s disposition. Another wild card is the future role of eighty-four-year-old Yusuf al-Qaradawi in local and regional Islamist politics. Qaradawiâ€”who was exiled to Qatar from Egypt in 1961 for his antigovernment and militant Islamist viewsâ€”returned home recently to great fanfare. His visit to Cairo was short, but he may return from time to time. With a best-selling book on Islam and a top program on Aljazeera, Qaradawi has a built-in constituency and could make a play for a leadership role in a Brotherhood divided along generational and policy lines.
Qaradawiâ€™s positions are cause for concern. Not only does he encourage suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, he has advocated the â€œstoningâ€ of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Mecca for his conciliatory stances vis-Ã -vis Israel. He has also called for Muslim states to acquire nuclear weapons, and has publicly declared his admiration for Adolf Hitler.
Muhammad Badieâ€™s statements betray a violent worldview as well. Not only did he reportedly proclaim support for suicide bombings against Israelisâ€”â€œimprovement and change that the [Muslim] nation seeks can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as the enemies pursue lifeâ€â€”Badie also is hopeful regarding the fall of the United States. The â€œwealthâ€ of the United States, he said, â€œwill not avail it once Allah has had His say â€¦ The U.S. is now experiencing the beginning of its end, and is heading towards its demise.â€
Although the Muslim Brotherhood leadership did not strike a high profile in Tahrir Square during the Papyrus Revolution, youths affiliated with the organization were significantly represented in the demonstrations. Like other Egyptian political groups, the MB established its own podium in the square. After Mubarakâ€™s fall, the MB coalesced with the liberal opposition and entered into negotiations with the Supreme Military Council. But the cooperation did not last long, and the two groups parted ways over the March 2011 constitutional referendum.
In effect, despite the MB leadershipâ€™s protestations that the organization supports a democratic Egypt, many liberals continue to be skeptical about the groupâ€™s ultimate goals. Egyptians, after all, have not forgotten past MB pronouncements of its intent to reinstitute the jizya tax on non-Muslims. At the same time, a younger generation of MB supporters is pressing for the organizationâ€™s geriatric leaders to be replaced, a development that could ultimately split or weaken the organization.
Secular Liberals. In 2005, as the Islamists were winning seats in parliament, Egyptâ€™s secular liberal opposition was coming together under the Kefaya (or â€œEnoughâ€) movement, led by al-Ghad Party chief Ayman Nour, among others. But Nourâ€™s unprecedented run for the presidency precipitated his arrest, disbarment, and five years of incarceration, followed by a messy divorce from his popular wife, Gameela Ismail. The adversity killed Nourâ€™s momentum, and constituted a substantial setback for the al-Ghad Party.
Five years after Nourâ€™s ill-fated campaign, the landscape of Egyptâ€™s political opposition has been transformed almost beyond recognition. A watershed for these changes was the return to Egypt in February 2010 of Mohamed ElBaradei. Having just retired as head of the IAEA, ElBaradeiâ€”a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize as well as Egyptâ€™s highest honor, the Greatest Nile Collarâ€”started criticizing governance in his home country and hinting that he might be interested in competing for Egyptâ€™s highest office in 2011.
ElBaradei was greeted by thousands of supporters when he arrived in Cairo, and he capitalized on this momentum to establish in coordination with other opposition groupsâ€”including liberals and Islamistsâ€” a loose umbrella coalition called the National Association for Change (NAC). Members of this coalition included, among others, the MB, al-Ghad Party, Democratic Front Party, and Kefaya movement. The NAC adopted as its goal the pursuit of a seven-point plan demanding reforms.
The opposition initiated an online petition seeking popular Egyptian support for the seven-point plan. Powered largely by the high traffic on the Muslim Brotherhood website (www.ikhwanonline.com), which linked to the petition at www.tawkatonline.com, more than a million Egyptians eventually signed on to the plan.
ElBaradei also received support, however modest, from the April 6 youth movement, another member of the NAC. For its part, the April 6 movement had emerged after the 2008 protests in al-Mahalla al-Kubraâ€”two years before ElBaradeiâ€™s return to Egyptâ€”and sought to use the internet to mobilize demonstrators in support of reform. It is unclear exactly how influential the constituents of what later became â€œApril 6â€ were in fomenting the 2008 unrest. While the organization did gain some prominence through its efforts to organize pro-reform demonstrations, subsequent attempts to mobilize crowdsâ€”like the proposed â€œDay of Angerâ€ in Cairo on April 6, 2009â€”proved decidedly less successful.
According to April 6 organizers, the 2009 event failed in large part because government security elements cordoned off protestors and severely beat 150 women. Alternatively, the groupâ€™s demandsâ€”which included setting presidential term limits, establishing a minimum wage, and ending natural gas exports to Israelâ€”may have been too diffuse. Judging from the repeated arrests and prolonged detentions of April 6 movement leaders, however, the government felt real concern about the groupâ€™s potential effectiveness in pioneering use of social media to rally crowds The concerns were warranted. April 6 proved to be aâ€”if not theâ€”key agent behind the Papyrus Revolution. Since Mubarakâ€™s fall, April 6 remains a force in Egyptâ€™s pro-democracy youth movement, and it will likely continue to inform debate and raise crowds should the military or the next government fail to respond to the peopleâ€™s demands. But with the achievement of goal unifying the groupâ€”i.e., Mubarakâ€™s removalâ€”the movement may be starting to show some signs of drift.
Along the same lines, ElBaradei has been supported by the Independent Campaign to Elect Mohamed ElBaradei 2011, a web-based organization run by Egyptian television personalityâ€”and son of prominent Qatar-based cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawiâ€”Abdel Rahman Yusuf. The Independent Campaign has both a slick website and a Facebook page, which as of October 2010 claimed nearly 250,000 friends. Prior to the revolution, the website provided news detailing government harassment of ElBaradei supporters, which regrettably occurred with high frequency.
Not surprisingly, the Mubarak regime targeted ElBaradei, seeing him as a threat. In fall of 2010, for example, pictures of ElBaradeiâ€™s daughter Laila appeared on the internet, hacked from her private Facebook account. The photos, which included snapshots in a bathing suit, pictures of friends imbibing alcohol at her wedding, and a captured image of her Facebook homepage indicating that she was â€œvery liberalâ€ and â€œagnostic,â€ were uploaded to another Facebook account called â€œElBaradeiâ€™s Family Secretsâ€ and reprinted in the Egyptian government press. Moreover, the Facebook account included a testimonial from an alleged â€œfriendâ€ of Laila ElBaradei, who claimed to be shocked by Mohamedâ€™s â€œunprecedented visits to the mosques, since I know that [he] and his family do not embrace any religion. This empowered me to speak out and tell the truth.â€
The testimonial and the pictures smacked of a government-orchestrated attempt to discredit ElBaradei with the conservative Egyptian electorate. In response, ElBaradei issued a statement to the press, pointing out that â€œSuch campaigns are always the only response by the regime to those who call for democracy.â€ As the opposition gained momentum in 2010, the intimidation tactics increased. Indeed, several reports in summer and fall 2010 indicated that the regime was detaining and interrogating key opposition activists returning to Egypt from trips abroad. The most prominent of these incarcerations involved the nephew of respected opposition leader Osama Ghazali Harb, of the Democratic Front Party. ElBaradei supporters referred to the September detention of Dr. Shadi Tariq al-Ghazali as a â€œkidnapping.â€
Despite constant harassment and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Egyptian liberals not only persevered in their opposition to NDP political hegemony, they also built organizational infrastructure. Over a very short period, ElBaradei established a grassroots network extending beyond Cairoâ€™s traditional liberal elite. By spring 2010, for example, a core group of ten young supporters apparently had set up a coordinating office in Giza for ElBaradeiâ€™s run at the presidency, recruiting new supporters by holding frequent meetings to propagate the seven-point plan. Significantly, members of this clique did not show the customary fear of regime security. When one of these activists was asked whether he feared arrest, he responded that he had programmed into his mobile speed-dial the numbers for six pro-bono lawyers ready to jump to his aid if he were incarcerated.
As for Ayman Nourâ€”the leader of Egyptâ€™s fledgling liberal opposition until ElBaradeiâ€™s arrivalâ€”despite a significant drop in his public profile, he remained an active gadfly in Egyptian politics. Immediately after his February 2009 release from prison, he resumed his opposition activities, recruiting like-minded parties and prominent personalities to establish the Egyptian Campaign against Hereditary Succession of Gamal Mubarak.
In addition to being a ubiquitous presence at conferences and issuing frequent press releases, Nour participated in rallies with other opposition leaders, such as Hamdin Sabahi of the Nasserist Party and ElBaradei himself. At the same time, Nour clearly viewed ElBaradei as a competitor of sorts in leading the liberal opposition. Indeed, shortly after ElBaradeiâ€™s return to Egypt, Nour described him as a â€œhypothetical candidateâ€ compared to himself, a â€œreal one.â€ In July 2009, Nour formally announced he would again run for the presidency. To this end, during much of 2009 and 2010, he traveled to several governorates in support of al-Ghadâ€™s door-to-door campaign, introducing prospective voters to the party platform. As in 2005, this platform focused on â€œpeaceful reformist change [that is] legitimate and possibleâ€ in Egypt.
While few Egyptians considered Nour a serious contender for the position, he continued to irk the regime, which had denied him permission to travel to the United States following his release from prison. Subsequently, on October 29, 2009, Egyptian state security raided Nourâ€™s offices in Cairo. During a campaign trip to Hurghada a few days later, a pro-NDP mob reportedly harassed Nour and his retinue and threatened to beat the candidate.
The largely leaderless Papyrus Revolution changed the dynamic among the liberal opposition elite. The profile of Nour and ElBaradei received a boost, but other potentates also emerged during the turmoil. Wael Ghoneim, the Egyptian Google executive who established the influential Khaled Sayyed Facebook pageâ€”and was subsequently arrested and detained for two weeksâ€”became a symbol of the youth revolution, particularly after his moving forty-five-minute interview on Egyptian television.68 Longtime Arab League secretary-general Amr Mousa also affiliated himself with the revolutionaries as soon as it became clear that his patron, Hosni Mubarak, would be deposed.
Mousaâ€™s high profile and popularity make him the early front-runner in Egyptâ€™s first post-Mubarak presidential elections. From 1991 to 2001, Mousa served as foreign minister, taking nationalist and populist positions that provided the diplomat with a sort of folk hero status in Cairo. These qualities have made him a target for ElBaradei, who continues to eye the position.
During the spring 2011 crisis in Libya, ElBaradei repeatedly condemned the Arab League and Mousa for not taking a stronger stand against the atrocities perpetrated by Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi.69 (This domestic pressure may have contributed to the Arab League resolution in March 2011 supporting a no-fly zone over Libya.) Still months off, the field of candidates for the first-ever free presidential election in Egypt will be deep.
Toward a Durable Opposition Coalition?
The Muslim Brotherhood did not welcome ElBaradei when his plane touched down in Cairo. Shortly after his return, though, several meetings occurred between secular and Islamist opposition forces. The MB approached these meetings cautiously, portraying them as meet-and-greets. Yet there was little doubt that the MB and ElBaradei shared common ground in opposing tawrith, the hereditary succession of Gamal Mubarak.
In short order, additional understandings were reachedâ€”MB support for ElBaradeiâ€™s seven-point plan, for exampleâ€”but several key questions remained. Atop this list was the divisive question of whether the MB would consent to boycott the 2010 parliamentary and 2011 presidential elections. The largest opposition umbrella organizationâ€”the Coalition of Egyptian Opposition Parties (CEOP)â€”split over this issue. For ElBaradei, the decision was simple. In June 2010, he announced that he would not run for office, lest it legitimize electoral fraud. Instead, he sought to build a broad-based coalition committed to not participating.
â€œIf the whole people boycott the elections totally,â€ he said, â€œit will be in my view the end of the regime.â€ Three of the more prominent members of CEOP, however, initially did not consent to a boycott. The Wafd, Tagammua, and Nasserite partiesâ€”all of which appeared to be amenable to cutting deals with the NDPâ€”participated in the 2010 parliamentary elections.
The decision to participate in elections was controversial within the MB. In early November 2010â€”against the position taken by the Brotherhoodâ€™s Office of the General Guideâ€”twenty-two MB members of parliament announced they would not seek reelection. In the end, the balance of the MB, along with Wafd and Tagammua, participated in the first round of parliamentary elections. After widespread reports of fraudâ€”which contributed to a near NDP sweepâ€”the MB and Wafd boycotted the second round. The MBâ€™s loss of eighty-seven seats in the 2010 parliamentary elections was striking. But the results appear to have been foreordained, despite the groupâ€™s continued popularity. Months before the polls opened, former NDP secretary-general Sharif pledged that the NDP would not â€œallowâ€ a recurrence of 2005.
In preparation for the 2010 parliamentary elections, MB members were subjected to repeated arrests, lengthy incarcerations, and a prolonged government campaign targeting the groupâ€™s finances. This rough treatment instilled in the MB a healthy respect for the repressive capabilities of the Mubarak regime. As MB Guidance Bureau member Essam al-Erian noted in a May 2010 interview:
[T]he MB achieved unprecedented gains in its political and social history [during the Mubarak era], but when we look at the number of arrests, we find that its number is 30,000 since the rise of Mubarak in 1981. Itâ€™s correct that the arrests are for shorter periods [than during the presidency of Gamal Abdul Nasser], between six months and a year, but the total of sentences issued on their behalf reaches 30,000 years in prison, and that is a scary number.
So opposition to tawrith, or hereditary succession, and ElBaradeiâ€™s seven-point plan were the glue that held the liberal opposition and Islamists together. Beyond these central points, however, the opposition shared little common vision. Israel, not surprisingly, is one consensus issue. So, too, is support for the Palestinians as well as the populist demand that Egypt end the deal that provides natural gas to the Jewish state at submarket prices.
In July 2009, opposition forces protested against the natural gas arrangement between Egypt and Israel on the steps of the Journalistsâ€™ Union building in Cairo. According to the MB account of this protest, prominent secular opposition leaders George Ishaq (Kefaya), Anwar Esmat Sadat (Reform and Development), and Ayman Nour (al-Ghad), participated.78 Pictures from the demonstration show bearded men carrying signs demanding an end to the peace treaty with Israel and the toppling of â€œMubarak the Zionist.â€ With the notable exception of some leading MB officials, however, none of these groups is openly calling for the end of Israel or the abrogation of the Camp David Accords.
During the revolution and immediately after, leaders of the liberal and Islamist opposition appeared to be working together productively. Despite early confusion in January 2011 regarding whether the MB supported or recognized ElBaradei as the spokesman of the demonstrations, the MB has since taken a low public profile, aware of concerns at home and in the West and content to let the liberals lead in negotiations about political demands with the Higher Military Council. Meanwhile, the MB has worked quietly on establishing its own political party, and successfully lobbied authorities to get key personnelâ€”such as Khairat al-Shaterâ€”released from prison.
The modus vivendi ended with the referendum on the constitutional amendments. The MB supported the limited amendments, while the liberals opposed them, believing the changes insufficient. Today in Egypt, the liberals and the Islamists are competitors, vying for political power in elections with differing visions for the future. These trends will also be struggling for power among themselves. Indeed, by April 2011, nearly a half dozen Islamist parties had emerged, including MB offshoots and more militant Salafist parties. Liberal political parties have proliferated as well.
As of April 2011, it is not entirely clear that the militaryâ€” which has essentially dominated Egypt for the past 7,000 yearsâ€”will consent to real civilian control, whether liberal or Islamist. But the militaryâ€™s proposed time line and sequence of events for the transition period clearly work in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood. Given historical tensions between Egyptâ€™s Islamists and the military, we might at least ask whether the army and the MB are working together toward a less than fully democratic arrangement that preserves traditional military equities in Egyptian society.
David Schenker is the Aufzien fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute, from where this monograph, of which this is part 2, is adapted. Previously, he served as Levant country director, the Pentagonâ€™s top policy aide on the Arab countries of the Levant, in the Office of the Secretary of Defense; in that capacity he was responsible for advising the secretary and other senior Pentagon leadership on the military and political affairs of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories.